By Kevin Hogencamp
Dougherty County Schools Superintendent Joshua Murfree admonished his staffers Tuesday to cooperate with state investigators who return to Albany this month to determine whether educators altered students’ Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores.
A team of special investigators, headed by former state Attorney General Mike Bowers, is expected back in Dougherty on Aug. 8, having completed a scathing 800-page report on the Atlanta Public Schools.
In a letter to staffers Tuesday, Murfree did not mention his previous suggestion that educators refrain from providing anonymous information to investigators and that investigators refrain from accepting anonymous information.
“My request is the same as when we visited all schools in the past encouraging your full copperation with the investigation,” Murfree wrote to his staff Tuesday. “All employees of the Dougherty County School System are advised and directed to cooperate with the investigation and the investigators.”
Last month, Murfree said in a press statement that educators with information about cheating discuss the matter with him first. Murfree also said he would encourage investigators to ignore anonymous information provided to them during the probe.
“My door is always open to anyone who has information about cheating. I’ve asked them (staffers) to come to me, first …” Murfree said on July 20. “I will make a request to the investigative team and investigators that will return to our system that, when they get leads, they do not accept anonymous calls, letters, emails, or otherwise without holding those calls, letters, emails, or otherwise to the same standards and scrutiny for which they are holding this district.
“All callers should give their names and telephone numbers as a point of reference for follow up. If an anonymous letter has no name and number it should not be accepted.”
Murfree’s message Tuesday was starkly different.
“It is the expectation of the Board of Education and the Superintendent that every employee upholds the highest level of professionalism at all times,” Murfree wrote.
Murfree said in the letter that the purpose of his correspondence was to let staffers know that the investigation would resume Aug. 8 and take about four weeks, plus “an additional two weeks span where lawyers will come to the district and also interview teachers, administrators, etc.”
“We will work collaboratively with the law firm of Balch & Bingham, LLP, where the investigating Attorney Michael J. Bowers is employed and has been given authority, along with Attorney Robert E. Wilson of the law firm Wilson, Morton and Downs LLC to lead and complete the CRCT investigation. We all must keep in mind that the district will provide pertinent information with any open record’s request related to the investigation to the aforementioned investigative attorney and law firm.”
Murfree also asked that staffers provide investigators a room or office space in which to conduct interviews.
In his letter to teachers and administrators, Murfree did not mention lead investigator Richard Hyde, who says that Mufree obstructed the probe in its early stages. Indeed, Hyde said that teachers and administrators who assist with the probe may be offered immunity for telling the truth. Meanwhile, the investigators have established a hotline – (404) 962-3849 – for tipsters to call with information about CRCT cheating.
Last month, an investigation revealed that 178 teachers from the Atlanta area from as early as 2001 cheated by falsifying CRCT test results. Additionally, 38 principals were linked to the scandal either by directly participating in the changing of wrong answers or allowing the changes to be made when they knew, or had the responsibility to know, what was going on.
Now, the probe has shifted to Dougherty County, where local officials insist that no cheating occurred while an investigator says that some teachers already have confessed. Like Atlanta, Dougherty County was flagged by state officials in an analysis of erasures and wrong-to-write answer changes on the 2009 CRCTs; teachers and administrators at 14 of Dougherty County’s 26 schools are suspected of cheating.
The Atlanta and Albany investigations are not only exploring who altered tests – but why. Motivations for doctoring tests include job preservation because of expectations placed on educators for their students’ to pass standardized testing, along with appeasing school leadership by meeting expected performance goals. A less selfish, yet misguided, motivation for some educators who cheat could be to advance low-performing students to boost the students’ self-esteem.